While not plumbing the depths to the same degree as my Bryston B60, the Stinger's bottom end was noticeably more articulate and fluid in reproducing electric and acoustic bass. On Wes Montgomery's Round Midnight [Verve 314 521 690-2], Richard Davis' double bass has always seemed a little obscured and indistinct to me. With the Stingray, Davis' finger work was startlingly well defined and clear without being washed out by the drums and the rest of the band. I am beginning to believe this is a characteristic of tubes; the ability to uncover and bring forward little nuances and subtle dynamic fluctuations to make for a more immediate and involving musical experience. That's not all; tubes also seem to convey a greater sense of dimension and physicality. That is, a sense of presence one can feel even during silences between notes. Solid-state generally sounds completely black and empty which is rather

unnatural when you think about it. Tube equipment -- whether the tonal balance is entirely to my liking or not -- just sounds more real to me in general. If you look hard enough in print mags as well as on-line, you'll see that many reviewers who started out with solid state gradually gravitated to tubes and almost never go back. Apart from the opamp based Audio Zone gear, I appear to be heading in that direction too. [Speaking of which, the 6moons circus of reviewer/writers sports our Editor with the Audiopax monos; Jeff Day with the Fi and Almarro tube amps; Stephaen Harrell with the Art Audio PX-25; Jules Coleman with the Shindo Sinhonias; John Potis with the Art Audio Carissa; Chip Stern with the Mesa Baron; Jim Bosha with the Antique Sound Lab MG-SI15 DT; Ken Micallef with the BAT VK-75; and Marja & Henk with the AudioNote Meishu.]

The treble region was exceptionally vibrant, extended and silky smooth. However, I thought the Stingray was slightly tipped up in the upper mids and lower treble to project more crystalline and detailed highs than I'm accustomed to. This may be a little too much of a good thing in some systems (it wasn't in mine). I would therefore recommend staying away form overly lean or tipped-up transducers. Then again, I suspect one could alleviate any potential bugaboos with a little tube rolling or a cable change.

The Stingray could play quite loud before telegraphing any overt signs of distress. Rather than clipping hard as solid state amps generally do, this Californian protested by compressing images, collapsing the soundstage and just plain refusing to get louder. The only other integrated I've had in house to date that could hang together at very high (and I mean really high) levels was Underwood Hifi's kick-butt Level-2 Unison Research Unico. While the modded Italian had the edge in ultimate output volume, bass grunt and slam factor, I frankly don't remember it having as seductive a midrange as the Fish. Nor were the highs quite as vibrant and detailed. One isn't necessarily better than the other as both deliver the sonic goods in their own respective ways.

As I alluded to in my opening paragraph, there is definitely something about this amp that just screams Rock'n'Roll and play me loud - which is exactly what I did. The Stingray loved guitars! That's not surprising as EL84-based guitar amplifiers have a long and happy history among Rock's axe grinders. Everything from Keith Richards characteristic "aronk, aronk" style chugging away on the truly malevolent Midnight Rambler [Abkco 719005] to Robert Quine's oblique and edgy dissonance on Lou Reed's Blue Mask [LP RCA 14221], I got the sense that I was fully hearing the rich harmonic
texture of electrified guitars and each guitarist's unique style. What a treat! Fave RnR albums followed one after another; New Day Rising [SST 031], Who's Next [MCA 11164], Electric Ladyland [MCA 11600], The Best of The Ventures [EMI 93451] and Double Nickels on the Dime [SST 028] to name but a few.

Lest you think the Stingray was all brawn and striated muscle but lacking the finesse and light touch necessary to do justice with more, ahem, serious musical forms, I can assure you that the stinger handled such genres with grace and aplomb. Large-scale orchestral works such as Ricardo Chailly's recent release of Mahler's 3rd [Decca 475 514-2] was rendered in all its high power thunder and weight without signs of compression as long as I didn't crank the volume up to very loud levels. Brass had terrific bite and projected forward just as they do in the concert hall. The Concert-gebouw was arrayed across my room with good separation between
the various sections of the orchestra. The aural perspective was quite close up; if you prefer a more distant view, the Stingray may not be for you. However, I never felt the Stingray to be aggressive or in my face. String tone was spot on without the spurious addition of any unnatural steely edge or thinness that can plague many solid-state amplifiers. For example, the similarly priced Bryston B60 sometimes thins out string tone.

Anton Keurti's piano was stunning on his new and wonderfully rich recording of Beethoven's final three piano sonatas [Analekta FL 2 3182]. The leading edge attack, body and decay of each note were rendered exceptionally well without becoming hard or glassy at all. Seductive was the word that kept coming to mind. Certainly not something I always associate with piano recordings.

So how does the Stingray compare to other amps that have passed through Paul & Anne-Marie's love nest? While I have already

mentioned the Level-2 Unico, the Stingray was certainly more dynamic and invigorating than the Underwood HiFi Level-2 Music Hall Mambo which never really cut loose for me. In fact, the Mambo had much of what I would call classic tube euphonic sound while its tubed companion here exhibited the control and power of solid state. This goes to show you can't always judge an amp by its output devices. It's all in the implementation. I know considerable efforts were made by Manley Labs to alleviate the EL84's reputation for lightweight bass by developing their own in-house-wound output transformers specifically for the Stingray.

Pitted against the Bryston B60, bass was more realistic and detailed on the little fishy from SoCal. Highs were surprisingly more extended and the midrange was lusher and fuller, with that lovely sense of dimensionality I mentioned before. The svelte little black box from Canada didn't have that magical spatial presence or tangible glow that offers a sense of living, breathing people performing music in a space. The B60 was more laid-back and controlled but it is still a capable performer in its own way.

My Audio Zone AMP-1 played louder and was a trifle more incisive, with boatloads of image density but not quite that almost ineffable sense of continuousness that only tube gear can apparently pull off. However, the AMP-1 was surprisingly close in this regard, especially considering its solid state heart.

The Stingray is by far the coolest-looking piece of hardware I've yet had in for review. I cannot see how anyone could be disappointed with its distinctive appearance. While the binding post and source

selector switch locations seemed a little awkward at first, I quickly adapted. For shorter and optimized signal paths, I don't mind a little extra work. Really, it's nothing to be concerned about. Everything is where it is supposed to be, a fine example of form following function. Sonically, the Stingray delivered an expressive, vibrant, energetic, fix-bayonets-and-charge attack allied to awesome foot-tapping rhythmic boogie. Along with this brio, there was a beguiling sweetness, deftness and delineation of detail that ably drew out all the sorts of nuances that made for an involving listening experience and exhibited a terrific sense of musical flow and yes, even humanity. This integrated amplifier easily climbs to the top two or three I've heard thus far. At this price point and even if you are willing to spend more, you'd be nuts to pass up the Stingray for serious audition. It's seriously good fun.

Manufacturer's website